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Lessons from the 2006 SHRM conference: Online-Only Handbooks: a risky legal proposition

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in Employment Law,HR Management,Human Resources

Rather than print out paper versions for each new employee, some employers have begun creating electronic-only employee handbooks. With each new hire, HR simply points the person to the online handbook, and tells him or her to read it and sign an acknowledgment form. Online handbooks cut costs and make it easier to amend your policies.

But such a strategy could be legally risky. Judges and juries still view online handbooks as having less significance than paper ones, says Joseph Beachboard, employment-law attorney at Ogletree Deakins in California.

"People place different importance on printed documents than they do to online links," said Beachboard. "If employees aren't on notice to what your policies are, it's very hard to hold them to those policies."

For that reason, Beachboard suggests that, until legal attitudes change toward online handbooks, employers would be safest to provide employees with hard copies, too.  

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